The soul and the disconnected letters

In paragraph 36 of Suriy-i-Ra'is (Summons, p155), Baha'u'llah says:

"All that We have mentioned here hath been elucidated in the Tablets We have revealed in response to questions regarding the disconnected letters of the Qur'án. Ponder them that thou mayest comprehend that which hath been sent down from the Kingdom of Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Praised. Thus have We chosen to be concise in this Tablet."

I have had a few people contact me asking if I have a copy of the tablet Baha'u'llah refers to here. I have a translation but am not free to distribute it or put it up online. I can understand why people want copies. What on earth does Baha'u'llah say in that tablet that he hasn't said in Suriy-i-Ra'is? I can't quote the whole passage, which is long and complicated, but I'll discuss it here and try to give a good idea of what he says.

The disconnected letters are Arabic letters that appear at the beginning of some surahs of the Qur'an. In his tablet, Baha'u'llah discusses the three that appear at the beginning of Surah 2, The Cow. The letters are A, L and M. As I explain in the essay, Baha'u'llah explains that, of these three, A is the most important. In Arabic, the letter A is called "alif". It was created first and all the other letters come from it. Baha'u'llah spends much time explaining different meanings of the letters.

For our purposes here, I want to discuss how the letter A is manifest in each human being. I'll quote here the section from the essay where I run through what Baha'u'llah says about this in the Tablet of the Disconnected Letters. In following blog entries, I'll take it bit by bit and discuss it. You'll see that it isn't easy to understand. Baha'u'llah is using the language and jargon of the Sufis.

The point to note before reading this extract is that the letter A is a symbol for the soul or rational faculty. Baha'u'llah is trying to explain how the alif, or soul, works within us and to demonstrate that the soul is one, despite its having many and varied effects within us. This is the same point we have found Baha'u'llah making in the other works we?ve looked at.


The self-manifestation of the alif in humans

Bahá'u'lláh then goes on to show how the alif is manifest in human beings.

He asks the reader to look within himself and note how he is able to perform at will any action he desires. He says that if a person looks inside himself "with pure, [unblemished] vision" and allows himself to experience a Divine Name, such as the Hearer, that person is able to experience at the same time all the other Names, such as Seeing and so forth. Almost in passing, Bahá'u'lláh then notes that, "all of this relative to [Divine] Attributes which all the people up till this moment return unto their Creator for they lack [insightful] awareness [comprehension]." I think Bahá'u'lláh is saying here that those who do not witness the Divine Names operating within themselves, and therefore have not acquired Divine Attributes, lose the grace of the presence of those Names in them and this grace returns to God.

This idea is carried through into the next paragraph, in which Bahá'u'lláh begins by asking the reader to testify within himself that the Divine Attributes "hath been created in His dominion and He casteth out upon such of His servants as He willeth." God, he continues, cannot be comprehended by our using our own way of understanding. Rather, in order to understand the way God works, we need to experience that work within ourselves. Hence, Bahá'u'lláh says, God "created these [various] abilities in the realities of His servants" so that they might understand that God created the Names and Attributes but is, at the same time, sanctified from them.

Bahá'u'lláh asks his reader to strive to "attain this station", that is, strive to experience within himself the Names and Attributes in the way described, so that the reader might not be a person who disregards these evidences and becomes a person who has eyes but cannot see, whose hearing does not work, and whose heart does not understand. He challenges the reader to witness how he is capable of doing many different actions like walking, sleeping and eating, but is still the same one person. A person then can express the various Names and Attributes and "submit" to them within himself. Again, these Names and Attributes are placed in us in diverse ways so that by their means we might "ascend within [ourselves] through the [experience of the] celestial ascents of [mystic] gnosis (ma`arij al-irfan). This is a clear statement, as discussed earlier in relation to the creation story, that we are asked to look at out own functioning in order that we might grasp something of how God functions and thereby attain to mystical insight (irfan), the purpose of our creation.

To give an example of what he is referring to, Bahá'u'lláh asks the reader to observe how he is able to perform an action, which is "but a single thing" and yet we might use a number of Names of God to describe or identify that action. "In reality" he says the action is "abstracted" from whatever we say about it. For example, a person might focus an action in the tongue and manifest speech, which is a "trace" or an attribute of that action, but no matter what name we give that trace or what attributes result from the action, this does not alter the action itself. This is brought about by our "turning towards" the various bodily functions that are given to humans. Bahá'u'lláh continues by saying that the same is true of the inner working of ourselves. If we focus our inner vision on the parts of our inner body, such as the mind or heart, the interplay between these parts and the various Names produces effects like "the intellect, the spirit, and the inmost heart."

In this way, God 'manifests' the letter A in many different ways within ourselves, even though the A is one reality. From this one alif, God is able to manifest "changeable [human manifestations of the divine] Names and the variegated effects [traces]." And an apprehension of these leads a person to the station of mystical insight or gnosis [irfan]. Such a person sees how God creates diversity by altering the locus of the A and the traces that come about as a result. Despite the diversity, the "Manifesting Reality" remains One and the "thing manifested" remains One. This is something people would readily see if they did not block out the evidences of it within themselves.